Mindful Curves

Yoga and Bodywork for All Bodies

Camel Pose

DC’s only yoga program for students with larger bodies has made its home on Capitol Hill at Freed Bodyworks. Yoga teacher and massage therapist Emily Brown holds semi-private classes on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. Mindful Curves Yoga and Bodywork evolved out of her personal quest to find a way she could feel at ease as a larger-bodied woman practicing yoga. She wanted others to be able to experience the joy and satisfaction from combining movement with breath work.

Brown’s journey began in the 90s when she was in college. As part of her course requirements she had to take an exercise class. She chose yoga, but struggled to figure out how to move into and out of poses. “Teachers didn’t tell me how to make poses work for my body.” She wound up practicing yoga on CDs in the privacy of her home, where she could go at her own pace and find ways to feel comfortable in the poses. “What I loved most was the pranayama [breath work] and meditation. It released a lot of stress.”

After college Brown completed training as a massage therapist. Her practice focused on therapeutic massage. “I worked with people who had injuries. I found that larger body people who became active were acutely aware of aches and pains.” She also found that her clients were not aware of how to be still with their breath and their body. “I wanted to teach people how to do that.” She studied yoga-teacher training in an Iyengar-based program. “My Mindful Curves program grew out of my desire to help people find their breath.”

What Makes Mindful Curves Unique

Emily’s Mindful Curves hatha yoga classes are not easy. They are intimate (no more than six to a class), lighthearted (she makes really bad jokes), vigorous, and at times intense, as well as relaxing and fun. Students are encouraged to ask questions. The atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming. In such small classes Brown can give individual attention and make adjustments.

“A lot of what makes my classes different is my language. I talk about the belly and bum as if they are just another body part. I steer away from language that may trigger people with dysmorphia or eating disorders. I also use the strap a lot in floor work, because when one has a larger belly it helps to get the movement from the hips instead of from the thoracic spine [mid-back].” Brown creates a space where it is safe to feel good in a larger body, with other larger bodies. “I want my students to be able to walk into a regular yoga class and not feel out of place.”

One of Brown’s students did just that. While she was on travel the student walked into a yoga class. The teacher said to her, “You know this will be hard for you.” The student asked for props. The teacher said, “We don’t use props in class.” The student told her, “I do. I need a blanket, two blocks, and a strap.”

Why Yoga?

Yoga can be one of the most accessible and beneficial forms of exercise for people with larger bodies. It offers both physiological and psychological benefits and helps practitioners learn how to relax, gain strength, and open the body in a way that is safe. But very few large people attend classes at the more than 15 yoga facilities on the Hill. Why? Many feel embarrassed or self-conscious, or just feel the flow is too fast. However, once they gain confidence the benefits are fantastic. One plus-sized model and yoga teacher on the West Coast described her experience: “I gained strength, I felt and slept better. Before I started doing yoga I really lived from the neck up. After yoga I began to feel at home in my skin. I’m comfortable sitting on the floor, to twist and to bend. Yoga grounds me. If I didn’t do yoga I can’t imagine feeling so good in my body.”

Other Mindful Curves Classes

In addition to hatha yoga classes, Brown teaches a yin yoga class on Wednesday evenings. It’s geared to stretching deeper, opening joints, and releasing fascia. “We do less poses, hold poses longer, and do lots of breath work.” Brown also holds bimonthly yoga therapeutic workshops at Freed Bodyworks that focus on chronic pain. “We get into a pose and relax into its shape. In these workshops Brown works with people who have pain from ailments such as fibromyalgia, frozen shoulder, plantar fasciitis, and arthritis. 

She also offers private yoga sessions. “I see clients with complicated medical histories, people recovering from injuries, new yoga students, and people who need to build confidence before attending a class.”

For more information on Brown’s bodywork and yoga classes contact her at emily@freedbodyworks.com.

Pattie Cinelli is a holistic health coach, personal trainer, and yoga and Pilates instructor. She’s been writing her health and fitness column for more than 20 years. Visit her new website at www.pattiecinelli.com.